Mentor Summit Report for PostgreSQL

mentor summit

Update: Fixed the etherboot wiki link.

I attended the Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit this past weekend on behalf of PostgreSQL. We met at the Google campus in Mountain View.

This event was an unconference and so, none of the sessions were determined in advance.

Some of the highlights were:

  • Leslie Hawthorn and Chris DiBona went into some detail with the whole group about the selection process for GSOC. This session made me feel as though PostgreSQL had relatively good chances for being accepted again next year. Google, however, does not pre-announce projects/products, so there is no sure thing about our (or any other project’s) involvement.
  • I met MusicBrainz guys and was pleased to receive many bars of chocolate they requested to be distributed to SFPUG and PDXPUG members as thanks for making an great database.
  • Attended three sessions concerning recruitment and retention of students. This is a topic that many people were interested in, but that few people feel they have a proper strategy for.

I also led a session on recruitment and retention of students to open source projects. Some of the ideas that came out of that and the related sessions were:

  • Determine what makes you personally need to be part of Postgres (joy of learning, scratching a technical itch, making a tool for your job, fame). Find out which of those things your student also needs or wants and try to give that or help your student achieve that thing.
  • Have a clearly defined method for students to keep journals. Several projects simply used MediaWiki and templates.
  • Use git (or other distributed revision control), and have students commit early and often to a branch that mentors have access to.
  • The Etherboot project has a great system: http://etherboot.org/wiki/soc/2008/start
  • Hold weekly meetings over IRC. These can be brief, but help get students accustomed to your project’s culture and way of doing things.
  • Ask the student: “are you on track?”, ask the mentor: “do you think the student is on track?” on a weekly basis
  • If you want students to stick around, find incremental responsibilities to assign that are driven by their enthusiasm.
  • Interview on the phone all your students ahead of time, not just the ones you think might be a problem.
  • Require a phone number on the application for the student.
  • Require a secondary contact so that if the student “disappears” there’s a backup person to contact. (and contact that person BEFORE SoC starts)

I made good connections with members of Git, Parrot, WorldForge, Ruby and many other community leaders. I was particularly impressed by the ideas and stories from the current Debian project leader, Steve McIntyre and Gentoo council member Donnie Berkholz. Donnie recommended some books about recruitment that I plan to read and review in the next few weeks.

The issue of mailing list moderation and the number of people required to keep mailing lists functioning properly came up frequently. If you know a moderator for a Postgres mailing list, please consider thanking them for doing a very tedious, extremely important and often thankless job.

I also spent some time discussing with Leslie Hawthorn and Cat Allman how to increase the total number of women mentors and students next year. Leslie and I shared some ideas and I offered to help implement them next year. One thing the crowd asked for was explicit training on how to recruit and manage female students. Realistically, this information will apply to all students, and I hope this training helps us recruit more students overall.

I thought the conference went quite well. I hope PostgreSQL is accepted next year, and that one of our mentors is able to attend this conference. And, if you go, be sure to register for the hotel early, and stay at the Wild Palms.

7 thoughts on Mentor Summit Report for PostgreSQL

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  1. Here’s the books that have been most influential in my thinking not just about recruitment but about the broader idea of creating an amazing project:

    - “Good to Great” by Collins. Accompanying “Good to Great and the Social Sectors” highly recommended
    - “The No Asshole Rule” by Sutton
    - “First, Break All the Rules” by Buckingham
    - “Who: The A Method for Hiring” by Smart
    - “Getting to Yes” and “Getting Past No” by Ury (first with coauthors)

  2. René Leonhardt: will do! I’ve already read “The No Asshole Rule”, so that will probably be first up.

    Donnie: Thanks a bunch! I’ve also ready “Good to Great”, but that was over a year ago, so will revisit it. Looking forward to “First, Break All the Rules.”

  3. I am glad that the “how to avoid disappearing students” session helped you. ;) I will love to see what happens about this issue in the next GSoC. A pitty we didn´t met at the end.

    Regards,
    David

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